Francis' landmark UN appointment

 Dennis Francis, president of the UN General Assembly. -
Dennis Francis, president of the UN General Assembly. -

There is no hyperbole in noting that Dennis Francis, an accomplished ambassador representing Trinidad and Tobago, has taken the country where it's never been before.

On Thursday, Mr Francis was unanimously elected the 78th president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) – a role that moves an ambassadorial representative of TT into a key role in UN debates and discussions, a job that's broadly similar to the role of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

But this house is a gathering of representatives from the 193 member states of the UN.

A seasoned professional diplomat, he has served in the diplomatic service of TT for 40 years, holding the rank of ambassador in unbroken service until retirement, from 1998 and 2016.

Among the duties of the UNGA is the appointment of the UN Secretary-General on the recommendation of the Security Council, the election of non-permanent members of the Security Council (Russia, China, France, the US and the UK are permanent members) and approving the budget of the UN.

Mr Francis was nominated and endorsed by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and his vision statement for his new role is focused on four pillars – peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability.

Of the four, he is ideally positioned to put specific emphasis on the question of sustainability, given his awareness of the impact of climate change, particularly sea-level rise and ocean acidification, on the fragile islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific.

He has served as senior adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on multilateral matters, which included climate change issues and this country's contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

A published scholar of his career, he will be tested to the nuances of sustainability to nations that remain stubbornly wedded to dangerously out-of-date, laissez-faire approaches to the world's environmental problems.

The challenges faced by small island states like The Maldives, Tuvalu, The Solomon Islands, Samoa and others will become more pressing in the face of the widespread stagnation of efforts, particularly in large industrialised nations, to slow the rise in global temperatures.

Two uninhabited islands of Kiribati, a group of 33 atolls between Hawaii and Australia, have already been swallowed by the sea. Freshwater reserves on the low-lying Kiribati islands are at risk.

As president of the UNGA, Mr Francis will have many competing interests vying for his attention and lobbyists seeking to get their issues on the assembly's agenda, but he has the forthright and clear-thinking example of Barbados' PM as a guide in these matters.

The experience of Mr Francis' decades of service representing this country at the UN will now be used to articulate a range of global issues that demand informed clarification and amplification.


"Francis' landmark UN appointment"

More in this section